At an October 30th press conference at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the Starbright Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to developing projects for seriously ill children, announced the formal lauch of Starbright World.
Starbright World is an interactive computer network that links hospitalized children nationwide. Starbright Co-Chairmen Steven Spielberg and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, joined by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, introduced the new service.
The former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs announced the project's plan and described its mission: "to be dedicated to the creation of projects that empower seriously ill children to combat their psychosocial and medical challenges ... and give them their childhood."
By linking 100 hospitals nationwide by the end of 1998, Starbright World hopes to improve the daily lives of seriously ill children by providing a human connection.
"You never think of technology as having a heart," Spielberg told the audience. "And I thought if there was a way of bringing that world into the hospital room, where these children are virtual prisoners, and let them feel that in some way that they could play outside and make new friends that would be a wonderful thing."
According to results from an 18 month trial period conducted by the Starbright Foundation, connecting with other seriously ill kids in an interactive world could be effective in diminishing pain, reducing loneliness and improving self-esteem.
"We need for (the children) to be a part of this emerging network of learning and playing and growing," President Clinton said. "And, it looks like it's a healthy thing to do as well."
In addition to Internet accessibility, Starbright World will allow hospitalized children to participate in video conferencing, talk to other children online, play on a three-dimensional virtual playground and ask questions about their conditions and possible procedures. President Clinton and the Vice President, guided by the four children who pioneered the project, toured Starbright World and talked via teleconference with hospitalized children at Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Starbright World is a collaboration between the Starbright Foundation, Intel and Sprint. The three organizations teamed up in response to President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address in which he challenged the private sector to provide funding and resources to link children's hospitals across the nation.
By combining multi-media, wireless communication and computer technology, Starbright Foundation has created an interactive community that it hopes will allow ill children to support each other and cope with their fears and uncertainties.